You might not be able to install an interlock device in a watercraft, but a family of an Oklahoma woman killed by a drunken boater is looking for other ways to strike back against people who choose to drink and drive on the water.
A former Miss Teen Oklahoma, Rachel Swetnam, was killed along with her friend after the driver of the boat she was in crashed at high speed into an unoccupied houseboat. The driver of the boat registered a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .18 at the time of the crash, over double the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle. But according to Oklahoma law, if you operate a water vessel while under the influence and it’s your first offense, you’ll only receive a fine of $1,000. If you receive a second conviction, you’ll pay up to $2,500. Those are fairly light penalties when you consider others states require the driver to lose their boating privileges, pay fines, and possibly end up in prison.
In this instance, the driver of the boat was sentenced to one year in prison and 14 years of probation for the deaths of Swetnam and her friend, but the family would also like people who drink and boat to be subject to the same penalties as if they were drinking and driving a vehicle. That’s why they are supporting Oklahoma House Bill 1714.
Oklahoma driving under the influence (DUI) law requires all first time offenders who are convicted of driving over .08 to lose their driver’s license for 180 days, spend up to one year in prison, and pay fines up to $1,000, but for boating under the influence you don’t even lose your driver’s license. If House Bill 1714 passes, anyone convicted of operating a vessel under the influence will lose their license for 30 days on a first conviction, 60 days for a second, and 90 days for a third.
A winter chill might still be in the air but spring and summer are right around the corner, and that means boating season is almost here again. Hopefully with the passing of House Bill 1714, Oklahoma lakes and rivers will be safer for everyone who boats on them.